Lawyers connected to Prenda Law, a 'porno-trolling collective,' indicted


Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Stephen Montemayor) and Ars Technica (Joe Mullin) report; for more on Prenda Law, see this U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision (which also credits Judge Otis Wright II with the "porno-trolling collective" label). An excerpt from the indictment (paragraphs added):

Between 2011 and 2014, defendants Paul R. Hansmeier and John L. Steele orchestrated an elaborate scheme to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in copyright lawsuit settlements by deceiving state and federal courts throughout the country. In order to carry out the scheme, the defendants used sham entities to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies—some of which they filmed themselves—and then uploaded those movies to file-sharing websites in order to lure people to download the movies.

To learn the identities of the people caught in the trap they constructed, Hansmeier and Steele filed specious copyright infringement lawsuits and fraudulently procured permission from courts to send subpoenas to internet service providers for subscriber information associated with the IP addresses used to download their pornographic movies. After receiving this information, the defendants—through extortionate letters and phone calls—threatened the subscribers with enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless the subscribers agreed to pay a settlement, all the while concealing their collusion in the alleged copyright infringement.

When courts restricted their ability to sue multiple individuals in the same lawsuit, the defendants shifted tactics. They filed lawsuits falsely alleging that computer systems purportedly belonging to their sham clients had been infiltrated by hackers, and then recruited ruse defendants against whom they brought these illusory "hacking" lawsuits. Finally, when courts became suspicious of the defendants' tactics and motives, the defendants began a long process of lies and deceit designed to conceal the truth and deflect responsibility from themselves. In total, the defendants obtained approximately $6,000,000 made possible by the fraudulent copyright lawsuits they peddled to courts throughout the country.